Cabinet ministers worried as baseball strike looms

Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Reports

Members of the Cabinet expressed concern Tuesday over a threatened strike by professional baseball players.

“I hope both sides will continue talks and find a way out,” said Takeo Kawamura, the minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology. “Baseball gives children dreams. The strike must not lead to a decline in baseball.”

The players association announced Monday it will refuse to play in weekend games during September if management does not meet their demands by Friday, including suspending a merger between the Orix BlueWave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes for a year. It would be the first strike ever in Japanese pro baseball.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters he is “very worried.”

“Fans would be sad that baseball games won’t be held,” he said.

National Public Safety Commission Chairwoman Kiyoko Ono sided with management by questioning how much fans understand the difficult financial problems faced by team owners.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders were more sympathetic toward the players association, urging club owners to hold sufficient talks with the players to prevent an unprecedented strike.

Nippon Professional Baseball, pro baseball’s governing body, has approved the Orix-Kintetsu merger, with the owners planning to endorse the merger officially Wednesday and then hold a final meeting with the players Thursday.

“I think the owners are now required to discuss the matter in a sincere manner” with the players, Democratic Party of Japan leader Katsuya Okada told a news conference.

“(The planned merger) might have been unavoidable even if the final decision had been reached after (the owners) consulted the players over the matter, but it seems to me that (the owners) have not made enough effort,” Okada said, adding that the turmoil has stemmed from an owner’s remark that was widely taken as dismissing the opinions of players as insignificant.

Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima issued a statement Monday saying the SDP supports the players’ decision to strike and noted the merger will have a severe impact on employment and labor conditions of players and other workers at the ball clubs and stadiums.

“Considering that pro baseball is supported by fans, we strongly demand that ball clubs and the NPB listen to the players’ demands and make efforts until the last minute to solve the problem through negotiations,” she said.

Later in the evening, a nonpartisan group made up of several lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party, the DPJ, the SDP and the Japanese Communist Party voiced their support for the players’ association at a rally in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park.

The rally, organized by the players’ association and four citizens’ groups, attracted some 1,200 participants. The organizers said they had collected more than 1.2 million signatures from across the country to support their movement.

“We must stop this foolish mistake (on the part of the club owners) and turn this movement into a new development (of baseball),” said LDP Lower House member Koki Kobayashi, who leads the lawmakers’ campaign to support the players’ association.